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The Singer Solution to World Poverty: Fighting of Hunger

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In this article, Singer begins by using a famine that occured in 1971 as a basis for his conclusion that firstly, because famine-induced suffering and hunger was inherently bad, wealthy nations were, by moral code, obligated to give aid, as long as said aid was not a “sacrifice of comparable moral importance (Singer).” Singer highlights this view by giving an example of a child drowning in a neighborhood pond, and us as a nearby citizen who encounters the situation, being obligated by moral code to save the child (reduce the suffering) without importance being given to dirtying oneself in order to do so. The sacrifice in this case, dirtying oneself is greatly outweighed by the need to save the child, or prevent bad from happening. As the article continues, one’s obligation is to reduce the amount of bad or suffering happening if possible, without a detrimental sacrifice, causing the obligated to receive harm or suffering in a similar manner as the receiver of aid. In other words, the sacrifice made to help someone else, shouldn’t cause the giver to suffer in the same way as the receiver of help, but the obligation remains. Another example given, was that instead of buying clothes to be well dressed (without inherent need or necessity), that money (or aid) should be given or spent to help decrease the bad happening elsewhere because of inherent need that is being caused by the bad situation. 

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Singer defends his conclusion with several examples including the famine in India. He explains that although many countries may argue that they are geographically far from providing aid to India, this shouldn’t be an excuse. Because of the circumstances we are in, we should be obligated either way to give aid. He does admit that being close to the situation can help the observer know well how to administer the aid, though all should still administer, especially so as the world has developed into a “global village” of sorts. Singer also explains that this obligation to help can be psychological in nature if the terms or norms were different. If we were expected to provide help, it wouldn’t be strange to do so, whereas it is good to provide aid and is applauded, but not bad to withhold said aid. Because of this, many feel a lack of “obligation” to help because of the lack of negative consequence to that decision. It is also explained that the number of providers known to the proposed helper is also important. If one knows that they are not the only one abstaining from providing help, they feel less negativity from making that decision. Thus the “ traditional distinction between duty and charity cannot be drawn.” One is not obligated to help, but is not reprimanded for withholding. This system would have one focus on the needs of others and be obligated to help with those needs, but not to the point of their own suffering as those being provided for.

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